On my way home from the salon the other day, I met two of my neighbours. One seemed shocked, “You have cut your hairs?” and the other one seemed pleased, as always, “Cut your hair? Looking good.” Later when I was washing my hair, I decided to make this post about the essential difference between countable and uncountable nouns.
In this context, my second neighbour is right, though I still hate how he drools each time he sees me. To explain that, let’s look at a very basic grammar rule: countable nouns and uncountable nouns. Now, as you can say from its name, a countable noun is any noun that you can quantify or count (Eg. Dog, pen, cat, can, bottle, cigarette, diary, etc) and these nouns take separate plurals and singulars, like so:
My dog is well-trained – Singular
My dogs are well-trained – Plural
On the other hand, uncountable nouns, or mass nouns, are those that you cannot quantify or count (Eg. music, art, love, happiness, advice, news, furniture, luggage, etc.). There is still a way to quantify these, but you have to add something to them to count them, like so:
A collection of art
A piece of information
A kilo of rice
I have some luggage.
I have too much furniture
There are these nouns, and there are nouns that can take both forms, often with a change of meaning. Examples –
Picasso’s works will be on display at the museum on Thursday (meaning his creations)
I need more work to pay my rent (professional job, one that earns money)
The room has two lights (meaning a physical source of light, like a bulb)
Draw the curtain, there’s too much light here (ambient or available light, could be sunlight)
Hair is one of these mass nouns that can also be countable. Typically “hair” refers to the entire mass on the human head or on the skin of an animal. So Sally has red “hair” and Devon has curly “hair”.
Hairs can be counted, and is used for individual strands. So you can have “hairs in your coffee” but not “hairs on your head” because in the second case, you can’t actually count the individual strands on your head. Some good examples of the difference can be –
While I was brushing my hair today, I saw a few grey hairs and freaked out.
Comb your hair elsewhere, there are three hairs in my food!
The detective found hairs on the carpet and has sent them for DNA sampling to check if they match Reuben’s hair.
Ok, I’ll stop. This is getting way too hairy now. The next thing I know is you’ll get disgusted enough to pull out your hair and then put some hairs in my food!